There are so many ways to prevent infections, I sometimes wonder why we spend the vast majority of our time talking about immunizations.
Well, yesterday the CDC came out with data that are so astounding, all I could think when I listened was: That’s why!
The CDC looked back at children born between 1994 and 2013, and estimated that vaccination will prevent:
- about 322 million illnesses
- 21 million hospitalizations
- and 732,000 deaths over the children’s lifetime
And, of less importance than a child’s life but good to know, the prevention of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths nets a savings of $295 billion in direct costs and $1.4 trillion in total societal costs. That ain’t hay, as my dad used to say.
I’m happily highlighting these numbers because it’s World Immunization Week, and because the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Thanks to the VFC, vaccines are provided at no cost to uninsured kids in our country.
About 25 years ago, there was a big measles outbreak in the US. We saw approximately 55,000 cases of measles and more than 100 deaths. Come to find out, this outbreak was primarily due to uninsured children not being vaccinated.
Shortly after the outbreak, the VFC program was established with the hope that such an event would never be repeated.
We are currently seeing small outbreaks of measles cases in the US. Unlike 25 years ago, these outbreaks are primarily due to a small number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.
Measles was eliminated from the US in 2000, but not from the world. It’s estimated that 20 million people on this planet get measles each year, and 122,000 die from the disease. When unvaccinated individuals in this country travel to other countries, or interact with visitors from other lands, they are at risk for measles.
The symptoms of measles include the typical rash, fever, cough, runny nose, tiredness, red and watery eyes, and sometimes little white spots in the mouth. The symptoms stay for several days before gradually disappearing. However, complications are not uncommon. According to the CDC: About 30% of measles cases develop one or more complications, including:
- Pneumonia, which is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children.
- Ear infections occur in about 1 in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result.
- Diarrhea is reported in about 8% of cases.
These complications are more common among children under 5 years of age and adults over 20 years old.
Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and about 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis. (This is an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions, and can leave the child deaf or mentally retarded.) For every 1,000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it. Measles also can make a pregnant woman have a miscarriage, give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.
In developing countries, where malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency are common, measles has been known to kill as many as one out of four people. It is the leading cause of blindness among African children.
I look at these statistics and I think: Oh yes, this is the other reason we spend so much time talking about immunizations.
If I may appropriate and paraphrase something I heard the other day: Mom and dad, choosing not to vaccinate or to delay vaccination of your children is like choosing to put them in their car seats only on Thursdays when the sun is shining.
Don’t be a part of that small minority of parents who are afraid to proactively protect their children. Call your child’s healthcare provider today and make sure he or she is current on all immunizations.
Oh, and happy World Immunization Week.
by Trish Parnell
(Thanks to Liz Szabo for the thing I heard the other day.)